Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Babes with Chainsaws

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-10-26


AV’s post(1) about Christian sabotage of Western technological and scientific advancement is correct (despite strange comments by some readers) as far as it goes, but I think the real damage is that philosophical and moral development was, and still is, held back even more, leaving us as "babes with chainsaws", a very dangerous state of affairs.

Archbishop Pell’s praise(2) for Constantine as leading Western Civilization from ignorance and brutality is wrong-headed:  Christianity’s victory over Hellenic rationalism ensured the Dark Ages, as Gibbon eloquently explains in his masterly "Decline and Fall".

No rational person can look at the rate of advance from Thales to Archimedes and Hero, then the retrograde trajectory of our knowledge and engineering prowess without recognizing the effect of triumphant Christianity: Archimedes had integral calculus pretty much under control, with triangles rather than the rectangles of Newton and Leibnitz, while Hero’s steam-powered spinner and hydraulic doors are not far from Jame’s Watt’s steam engine a millenium and a half later.

A little less obviously, the elegant heliocentric solar system of Aristarchos (of Samos, who correctly calculated the ratio of the earth-moon and earth-sun distance) and the spherical earth of Eratosthenes (who got the diameter of the planet correct within a few percent), were suppressed, set aside by the Christian Church/State co-dependency, preferring the rococco epicycles of the Ptolemaic world-view that allowed Christians to put Jerusalem at the centre of the universe, and forbade such thoughts, still threatening torture a millenium and a half later when Galileo tried to let the cat out of the bag.

Despite the extraordinary difficulty of making people deny the evidence available for all to see, the Christian-dominated Europe managed to suppress acknowledgement of obvious universal phenomena, causing a 1500 year retardation of our capabilities to understand and manipulate the physical kosmos.

Noumenal development, however, is much easier to suppress than the phenomenal, much more threatening to organized religion, while much more important to our humanity, and criticial for wise application of our capabilities in the phenomenal world.

The Christian view of human exceptionalism, that we are separated from, indeed somehow above, Nature, a view still dominant among right-wing political parties despite Thomas Henry Huxley‘s efforts and the Scopes "Monkey Trial", is a major reason why we continue to abuse the planet and all the sapient creatures in it.

Consider the RC Church’s opposition to European efforts to grant the great apes at least some civil rights, including the right to life, liberty (not to be the property of a human) and freedom from torture, making us their guardians rather than masters.

Compare this to the musings of Pliny the Elder in "Naturalis Historia", an eclectic favorite of the ancient pagan Roman upper and middle classes, about the similarity of apes and humans in both form and family feelings”, even suggesting they might be trained to play board games, agreeing with the poet Martial(3).  Remember, the Elder Pliny died rescuing people from Pompeii in 79 CE, nearly two millenia before Darwin and Jane Goodall, who remain controversial to this day.

Compare Australia until the 1960s when we finally recognized our Koori population as not merely fauna, but worthy electors.

Our duties to other humans, regardless of race or nationality, is only recently gaining traction against subservience to divinely annointed kings or the sovereign nation-state.  We are yet to achieve the goals of the Enlightenment, yet to realize the understanding of its hero, Cicero, regarded as a father of humanism, who spoke of the common bonds between all sapient beings, or Diogenes, first known internationalist who rejected allegiance to any state because he was "kosmopolites", a Citizen of the World.

Only those referred to insultingly as the latte-sipping intellectual elite prefer the cosmopolitan outlook, while those right-wingers who have claimed victory in the "History Wars" are pushing our societies back to an "us-and-them" culture.

My guess is that the authoritarian Christianity’s 1500 years suppression of science, but it’s 2000 years suppression of the development of western civilization’s moral sensibilities, has meant our wisdom is 500 years behind our science, explaining the disasters arising from our misapplication of technological power: hence my "babes with chainsaws" analogy.

Secular, rational Europe, from Napoleon and his "Continental System", the fore-runner of the EU(4) that was killed at birth by Christian Kings, to the modern free-thinking Nordics, are the light, the force for gentle Good, against the more aggressive religiosity of politicians and right-wing clerics in the US, Australia and Eastern Europe, who would yet deny the seriousness of our impact on the planet(5), and refuse to control their greed that so precludes Peace.

At the same time, I’d note that fundamentalist Islam, which developed the same co-dependency with authoritarian rulers during the caliphates as Christianity did under Constantine, is also a part of the problem, has the same sociopathic mechanisms and outcomes.  The duty of western secularists, in part payment of our debt to the Islamic world for the preservation and extension of Hellenic knowledge during the dark ages of Church control, their reintroduction of that knowledge to the west that stimulated our renaissance, is to point out the damage done by dogmatic religion’s dominance of civilian politics.

Can the West do this without hypocrisy unless we remove the same cancerous codependency from our own body politic?

Authoritarian, truth-denying Christianity, exemplified by Archbishop Pell of the Spanish Inquisition, the authoritarian Anglicans such as Sydney’s Archbishop Jensen, and the always-unsophisticated Pentecostals remain a problem, rather than those Christians that advocate individual thought, egalitarianism, and are open to debate, such as the anti-CDF Jesuits, Archbishop Rowan Williams (see Press Releases), and the Salvos(6).

Perhaps the solution requires states to remove their tacit sponsorship of organized religion through overly-generous tax concessions, demand "structural separation" of religious and charitable arms, and open accounting, so that the secular charitable works of organized religious can receive taxpayer assistance, while proselytizing and non-secular activities are funded totally by members of congregations.  I must wonder, if two collection plates were passed around churches, one for proselytes and property, the other for secular charity, which would fill the quickest?  I don’t have a clue on that one!

Faith, by it’s nature, sees doubt as sinful, making the faithful easy prey for the ex cathedra dictates of those in authority, both spiritual and temporal.  This leads to the problems that bedevil our societies, whether the clerics are Pentencostal preaching the "Prosperity Gospel" or radical mullahs preaching a jihad of violence rather than the authententic jihad to make oneself a better human.  Need I discuss the Palestine in detail?

Would Australian society have have exhibited such a lack of compassion for others, suffered from aspirational affluenza, become so anti-intellectual, without Howard and Costello giving aid and comfort to the Christian Right, particularly the Hillsong types, while castigating the Christian Progressives, threatening to remove their status as charities if they join with secular humanists to advocate social justice?  Whether it is a faith-created mindset that allows the diminution of civil society’s human rights and apolitical justice, or whether the Christian Right absolves the Howard/Costello inhumane agenda and actions because (probably through political savvy) they support unsophisticated religiosity doesn’t matter.  Chicken or egg: I don’t care.

Anti-religious rationalists who berate authoritarian religions for suppressing scientific advancement have missed the point.  While correct, they fail to charge the Right-Wing Churches, Mosques and Synagogues with the more serious and continuing crimes.


Notes:

  • (1) Thanks to Bruce of The Thinkers’ Podium, who asked me to expand on a comment I made to a Five Public Opinions post ("Did Christian Dark Ages Hamstring Science?" 2007-10-24) by AV.
  • (2) "Pell’s QuadRant essay is sooooo wrong"My post on Pell’s essay about Constantine (2007-09-05) goes through Pell’s QuadRant hagiography of Constantine.
  • (3) Martial, a Roman poet also wrote the epigram: "Si mihi cauda foret, cercopithecus eram" which has been translated as "If I had but a tail, I should be a monkey."
  • (4) From SparkNotes summary of the The Continental System (1806-1807), near the bottom of the page:

    It is interesting to think of Napoleon’s Continental System as an early kind of European Economic Community (EEC), where the nations of Europe banded together to strengthen their economy against underselling by an outside force (in Napoleon’s period, Britain). The major goal of the Continental System, like the EEC, was to improve Europe’s economy and give it more leverage in trading.

    It is also worth looking at Napoleons massive reforms to law, hospitals, and schools for the gifted rather than the wealthy.

  • (5) Consider the regressive "right-wing" Catholic Archbishop Pell’s climate-change-denying remarks, and the way the progressive Anglican Bishop of Canberra, George Browning has challenged him to a debate.  (Barney Zwatrz in The Age 2007-10-24, 2007-10-25).  At the time of the Bush v Kerry US Presidential Election, The Economist stated there is no longer a "Christian" "Catholic" or "Protestant" vote, because there is a it is split within each major denomination between the "Left" Progressives who are willing to examine their views (see Shelby Spong) versus the "Right-Wing" Regressives who focus on dogma and uncritical faith.  Unfortunately, Richard Dawkins was too agressive with the reasonable "Lefties" (see my "Dawkins v God 1" 2007-05-28) while not going in for the kill with the Right-Wing Fundies (see my "Dawkins v God 2" 2007-05-30).
  • (6)The Salvos are a branch of the Methodists. Methodism started in the early 1700s and was very supportive of the working classes rather than the gentry, and has since merged into the progressive Uniting Church in Australia.  Weirdly, the Union-hating John Howard had a Methodist upbringing and was very active in his Earlwood church!

Asides and See Alsos:

  • We should remember that Abrahamist destructive antipathy to western civilization is far older than Christianity: heroes of Judæism such as David and Samson were ignorant hill tribesmen, part of an ancient "Taliban", engaging in terrorist acts against the Philistines, the same Philistines who invented the Aleph-Beth-Gimel, adopted via the Alpha-Beta-Gamma of the Greeks as our modern alphabet, a central asset and diagnostic characteristic of the western tradition.
  • Even Thales (approx 500 BCE) could prove the Earth was round: (1) Look at the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse; (2) You see the crow’s nest of an approaching ship before the hull.
  • The only Christian Roman Emperor I have any time for is Justinian, who, despite his incompetence and mean-spritidness (read The Secret History of Procopius) recognized the need for a consolidation of Law: the Codex Justinianus.  My favorite post-Constantine Roman Emperor is Julian the Apostate: guess why, apart from the fact that he published a satire on himself ("Beard Hater") … ;-)
  • Other posts that highlight that readers of the pre-Christian classics are predisposed to the progressive humanity the world needs but sadly lacks include: "Do the Classics create people with progressive politics?" (2007-05-10) and "Do the Classics create people with progressive politics? 2" (2007-05-21) which highlight the moral teachings of non-Christian classical literature, vandalized more by the Christian domination of Europe than the science, and so full of lessons that John Howard never learnt, or always ignores.

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5 Responses to “Babes with Chainsaws”

  1. AV said

    What can I say? Yet another wonderful post!

    Whether it is a faith-created mindset that allows the diminution of civil society’s human rights and apolitical justice, or whether the Christian Right absolves the Howard/Costello inhumane agenda and actions because (probably through political savvy) they support unsophisticated religiosity doesn’t matter. Chicken or egg: I don’t care.

    Australian religio-politics mirrors American religio-politics in this regard. Given David Kuo’s revelations last year, when it comes to the Bush Administration and the Religious Right, it really is hard to tell who is using who. And the same applies in Australia.

  2. Dave Bath said

    AV : Your URL is broken – can you fix pls?

  3. AV said

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15228489/

  4. Bruce said

    I likes what I see. You were pretty quick with that Dave. Caught me by surprise.

    I’ll have more of a think and comment about this later in the week (it’s a busy week ahead).

    Bruce

  5. […] his monumental negationism which really deserves a post all to itself* (thankfully David Bath has one pre-prepared on a similar topic which may tide people over), Dalrymple tells us that this is what the “New Atheists” […]

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